2010: A Miscellany

As the end of the year ap­proaches, here are some of the best things that I have read, seen and heard in the past twelve months.

Two major, large-scale per­form­ances this au­tumn made an im­pact on me. The London Sinfonietta’s con­cert of Lachenmann at the Southbank Centre in October was one. I already knew the mo­nu­mental piano con­certo Ausklang was some­thing spe­cial, but the high­light that evening was Schreiben, a 25-minute or­ches­tral work from 2003. Here’s the be­gin­ning of that per­form­ance re­corded by Radio 3:

The other large-scale per­form­ance that is still burned into my memory came cour­tesy of mu­sikFabrik and their per­form­ance of Rebecca Saunders’s CHROMA at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November. A work of vast scope and many beau­tiful in­tric­a­cies, I found my­self deeply moved by the ex­per­i­ence of wan­dering through that ar­chi­tec­tural sound. Here’s a short video from re­hearsals at Huddersfield Town Hall fea­turing prob­ably the creepiest of Saunders’s col­lec­tion of music boxes — music boxes that to­gether pro­duce a kind of glit­tering, metallic rain:

On a smaller scale, I was very im­pressed by Punto rosso, the second string quartet by Brazilian com­poser Aurélio Edler Copês, per­formed by Quatuor Diotima at this year’s Centre Acanthes in Metz. Using live elec­tronics to great ef­fect, the work of­fers a rich and in­tensely col­ourful sound­world that un­folds to form a power­fully or­ganic struc­ture. Here’s an excerpt:

Going back to the be­gin­ning of the year: Amir Nizar Zuabi’s play I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother, per­formed by Palestinian theatre group ShiberHur at the Young Vic in February, was po­etic not only in its lan­guage but in its sta­ging. Written around the up­heaval vis­ited upon a Palestinian vil­lage during the con­flict in 1948, the foot­prints left in the dust on stage by the con­tinu­ally fleeing actors was as el­egant a visual meta­phor as the old man bearing the weight of an up­rooted tree that he planted, watched grow, and does not wish to abandon. Here’s a short in­ter­view with the play­wright from The Guardian:

Olafur Eliasson’s ex­hib­i­tion Innen Stadt Außen at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin this summer was mind-blowing in its sim­pli­city and ef­fect­ive­ness. I sup­pose that means it was ef­fi­cient, but that seems a crude way of de­scribing in­stall­a­tions that cre­ated some ser­i­ously beau­tiful ex­per­i­en­tial situ­ations such as these snap­shots of lighting cre­ated with strobe light and flailing hose (this video’s from the Venice Architecture Biennale:

See also this piece of video art that lent the ex­hib­i­tion its name.

Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land - book coverThe death of Tony Judt in August left us without one of the most per­ceptive, calm and ori­ginal thinkers on politics and his­tory of re­cent times. As his motor neurone dis­ease worsened, his output be­came all the more ur­gent and Ill Fares The Land, pub­lished in March, is an as­ton­ish­ingly clear-sighted and keenly ar­gued book on the state and fu­ture of British and US politics. The pa­per­back isn’t out until April, but if you’re still short of a Christmas present, this is well worth the hard cover it comes in. This quote, from to­wards the end of the book, is a brief and valu­able axiom that is worth noting:

If we re­main grot­esquely un­equal, we shall lose all sense of fra­ternity: and fra­ternity, for all its fatuity as a polit­ical ob­jective, turns out to be the ne­ces­sary con­di­tion of politics itself.”

For some reason I re­main a fairly in­fre­quent cinema-goer, but Giorgos Lanthimos’s Kynodontas (Dogtooth) was a shocking and ali­en­ating ex­per­i­ence that had some fellow mem­bers of the audi­ence laughing in dis­com­fort and others sit­ting stiff with ten­sion. Werner Herzog’s latest, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, struck a pleas­ingly inane note in its treat­ment of a classic cinema situ­ation: the hostage stand-off. The sound of Washington Phillips’s ‘I Am Born To Preach The Gospel’ em­an­ating from a tinny radio over a long shot of gathered po­licemen, weapons cocked, (when at this point the audi­ence already real­ises that the host­ages are a pair of pet flamin­goes), render this cliché glor­i­ously ri­dicu­lous. On a much lighter note, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s Panique au vil­lage (A Town Called Panic) had all ages reeling at its slap­stick, clay­ma­tion comedy:

Joanna Newsom, Have One On Me [album cover]Finally, the run­away album of the year in terms of how often I piped it into my ears, was Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me. Managing somehow to follow up the twee coarse­ness of The Milk-Eyed Mender and the breadth and scope of Ys with a triple album of tight songs that demon­strate a no­tice­ably stronger and more ma­ture voice, Newsom proves her­self to be an un­deni­ably mas­terful musician.

And that’s all for this year. Here’s to new sights and sounds in 2011.

This entry was written by Chris, posted on Monday, 20 December 2010 at 11:20 am, filed under Odds & Ends and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Thank you!

  2. Posted Tuesday, 21 December 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    You’re wel­come!

  • Microbiography

    Chris Swithinbank is a British-Dutch com­poser who works with both acoustic in­stru­ments and elec­tronic sounds. He is cur­rently a stu­dent at Harvard University with Chaya Czernowin.
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